After driving the capable Lexus RC F a month or so ago, we came away impressed. It was a bit of a monster and we quickly took a liking to it and made sure we put a few good hard miles on it. For, uh, research purposes. It was a solid performer. Handsome too. All fully-fledged F models are though. So when Lexus offered us some seat time in the RC 350 F-Sport AWD, we jumped at the opportunity even though our expectations weren’t quite as high. We were startled and pleasantly surprised though by what a capable performer it was.
On the outside it looks very similar to the RC F we drove. With it’s sweeping fenders, short wheelbase, and fastback roofline, the RC model is probably the sportiest and sharpest looking model in Lexus line-up right now besides the epiphanal LC 500. The RC 350 F-Sport doesn’t look quite as aggressive as the F. The tall vent on the front fender is gone. The carbon fiber trim is gone as well. But it still looks good. It still looks fast. It looks cleaner actually.
2019 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport
Our review car arrived in Lexus ever-present and ever-attractive Ultrasonic Blue Mica, which really highlights the flowing lines of it’s design. There’s dark gray trim that looks good with the blue paint and an F-Sport specific grille. And the headlights have a different look too – unlike the RC F we drove, there are three vertically-stacked LED lamps under each headlight cover. The dark 19” wheels complete the look, which promises performance.
Inside is the familiar and comfortable interior that we recognized from the RC F. The carbon fiber trim is gone, replaced with a dark wood trim that fits in just as well with the dark leather. The F-Sport seats are extremely comfortable and heavily bolstered to hold you in place during sharp turns. They’re both heated and ventilated and 10-way electrically adjustable too. The instrument display consists of a large tachometer with a digital speed display within it.
As is common on the F-Sport models, the press of a button causes it to slide to the right and reveal further information such as tire pressures and trip odometers. The navigation screen is large (10.5”) and easy to read and is navigable via the touchpad on the center console. There’s a performance mode selector knob on the center console, as well as a button to disable the traction-control. There are two cupholders below them. This is the kind of interior you hope to find in every car you drive: comfortable, quiet, and intuitive. This is a near-perfect interior for a daily driver but it also works so well as a performance car interior.
Under the hood lies Lexus well-tested and 3.5L 24-valve V6 engine with variable intake and variable exhaust technology. It makes 311 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The engine is strongest in it’s mid- and upper-range, providing excellent passing and overtaking speed very quickly. 0-60 comes in a little over 4 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph. The engine is hooked to a 6-speed automatic transmission that offers drivers the option of using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and it distributes the power to the very capable full-time AWD system. The paddle shifters are fairly responsive and get better with each increase of the performance mode selector.
The suspension is tuned to be more sporting than the lower level RC models, but it’s not quite as capable as the suspension on the RC F. Like the F, the 350 F-Sport front suspension consists of double wishbones with coil springs, electronically-adjustable shock absorbers, and anti-roll bars. The rear consists of coils springs, electronically-adjustable shocks, and an anti-roll bar in conjunction with a complex multilink suspension. It’s tuned to be a compromise between comfort and performance, with the greater emphasis on comfort. Not that it’s not capable but the top of the line F model sets the bar so high that anything else just feels softer.
Behind the attractive 19” wheels are 13.2” ventilated discs in front and 12.2” ventilated discs in the rear. These are clamped down by very large calipers. They use anti-lock braking and electronic brakeforce distribution to give excellent feedback when braking. There is no squishiness or vagueness in pedal feel; only firm and communicative braking. Between the large discs and calipers and sticky tires, the RC 350 F-Sport AWD stops very quickly and confidently. In fact, we were also reviewing an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio the same week and we felt that while the brake systems of both cars were extremely effective, those of the RC 350 F-Sport had much better feel and better sense of control over how the brakes worked.
Steering too is confidence inspiring. The electronic rack-and-pinion power steering feels remarkably intuitive and natural. Not too light, not too resistant. The wheel is thick and fits comfortably in your hands.
Start it up and the V6 does a pretty good impression of a V8. Lexus utilizes the stereo system to amplify the engine sound inside the cabin and it sounds good. Pull the gear selector into D and pull away. The engine sounds great, with a deep bass growl. The ride is smooth, absorbing bumps well. They come through the suspension but they’re muted and diminished. Get on the throttle and the engine’s power builds the higher you wind out the engine. Shifts are smooth and clean. The road noise in the RC line seems to be greatly diminished over other Lexus models such as the GS and ES. It’s a smooth cruiser.
Adjusting the Drive Mode Selector instantly changes the character of the car. You have your choice of Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ (changes suspension electronically), and Snow. We were most interested in Sport S and Sport S+. Both settings quickened the car’s reflexes and responses, making it much more fun and exciting to drive. Engage the paddle shift transmission option and it becomes quite engaging. It’s not RC F fast, by any means, but it’s the next best thing.
The car handles well. I was initially a little disappointed when I experienced some understeer going into a corner. However, after giving it more throttle, the AWD system quickly pulled the front of the car through the corner with confidence. You soon realize that you can push the car hard through corners and count on it to take most of the danger out of the equation.
On one of our drives on back country roads that wound through and over the hills and valleys of northern Michigan, through an afternoon of heavy rains, the AWD system kept the bright blue Lexus stuck to the wet road instead of spinning through the ditch and farmers fences. The AWD system allowed us to push harder than we otherwise could had it only been RWD and it was a real boon during hard driving in wet conditions.
The Lexus RC 350 F-Sport AWD is a very competent, comfortable, and attractive sport coupe. While we were initially prepared to write it off as a weaker, lesser version of the RC F, we instead found that it is a surprisingly strong, surprisingly capable car and one worth taking a close look at.